I started reading ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (by Daphne du Maurier) because we were going to Fowey in Cornwall for the weekend, where she lived (see below).
Despite the bravura opening – ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days’ (she certainly knew how to write an opening sentence) – I was struggling to get into the book and, though making sure to take it with me, needless to say didn’t even open it when down there. Then I read this paragraph:
… I paused and looked back over the sunken fence. The wagons were silhouetted on the further hill, and the waiting horses and the moving figures black dots on the skyline. The shocks of corn were golden in the last rays of the sun. The sea was very blue, almost purple where it covered the rocks, and had that deep full look about it that always comes with the flood tide. The fishing fleet had put out, and were standing eastward to catch the shore breeze. Back at home the house was in shadow now, only the weather-vane on the top of the clock tower catching a loose shaft of light. I walked slowly across the grass to the open door.
The lyricism of this passage brilliantly captures the Cornish coastal landscape, and deftly, imperceptibly, draws you into the scene with the use of ‘that’ – . ‘had that deep full look about it …’ You are there.
This is followed in the next sentence with ‘the fishing fleet had put out’ … echoing the inexorable movement of the tide, in and out, and of the ebb and flow of life – and death. We are perfectly in the landscape, and in the moment of the story, experiencing timelessness and the passage of time, and change, thinking about the past whilst moving towards the open door of the future.
Now I’m enthralled.
Plans … and life.
What started out as a spur of the moment, kind of work-related plan for a long weekend in Cornwall became something else entirely as we tried to set out on the Friday – the day of the heaviest snowfall in Dorset for twenty years.
And no, we didn’t admit to the policeman, who turned us back barely five miles from home, where we were really headed. That we were trying to make a 150 mile journey ‘in this weather’. We finally managed to slide back home, and waited out an hour with a cup of tea but, unable to settle, we once more took to the road, this time heading south and west as opposed to north and west. But not for long. A lorry had spun on the road, creating miles of tailback. We had to turn back home once more.
But Saturday morning broke in dazzling, frosty sunshine, so we headed out again and this time made it all the way. So we finally got to see the blue of the Cornish sea, in bright February sun. Even if we didn’t, this time, get to the gates of Menabilly, one of the inspirations for Manderley:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.